This seems to me to be a potentially larger issue --- with broader national implications --- than it's currently being regarded as in the bulk of the corporate media.
I'm prepping to interview Brendan Cummings, the lead litigator in this case, later today on my KPFK/Pacifica Radio show. [That interview is now here...] Cummings argued the case on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity which sued the Obama Administration along with the Sierra Club.
So, for now, here's how the matter is being reported this week by Virginia Hennessey of the Monterey County Herald [emphasis added]...
Environmentalists and local representatives cheered the decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, who said federal land managers violated a key environmental law when they auctioned off the rights to drill for oil and gas on public lands in Monterey County, home to one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the nation.
Grewal faulted the Bureau of Land Management for not reviewing the potential impacts caused by fracking before accepting bids for the drilling rights, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
The judge did not say whether the leases themselves would be invalidated, but said he would decide their fate after the parties meet and send him a proposal next week.
"This important decision recognizes that fracking poses new, unique risks to California's air, water, and wildlife that government agencies can't ignore," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. "This is a watershed moment --- the first court opinion to find a federal lease sale invalid for failing to address the monumental dangers of fracking."
Environmentalists worry the technique can contaminate groundwater and pollute the air, as well as trigger seismic activity in the state's most earthquake prone area.
The affected leases sold in September 2011 include scenic stretches of southern Monterey County, where cattle ranchers and wine grape growers rely on tight water supplies to irrigate their pasturelands and vineyards. The area is also part of the historic range of the endangered California condor, whose global population was recently estimated at less than 400 birds.
The lawsuit alleged the bureau relied on inadequate 2006 studies to assess the environmental risks associated with increased oil and gas development. BLM maintained the leases would not necessarily involve fracking and new reviews were not necessary until requests were filed to drill on the leased property.
And here is the actual 30-page ruling [PDF] of U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal issued earlier this week.
UPDATE 4/11/13: My interview with Brendan Cummings, senior attorney from Center for Biological Diversity who won this landmark case, is now posted here...